Museum of English Rural Life – Overview

The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) is arguably the most extensive museum in England that is dedicated to farming, food, craft, rural life and countryside matters. Within the museum there are designated collections of national significance that consist of a wide range of objects, archives, photographs, film and books. These objects and artefacts are presented through nine innovative and fascinating galleries that explore different themes such as ‘A Year on the Farm’, ‘Town and Country’, and ‘Forces for Change.’

Run by the University of Reading, the museum is located in Redlands Road, to the rear of the institution’s London Road Campus near the town centre of Reading, Berkshire. The museum homes the University of Reading’s special collections archive, including hundreds of collections of rare books, manuscripts, typescripts and other objects of significant worth. It is an accredited museum, recognised for its accredited archive by the Arts Council England and the National Archives.

The museum was founded in 1951, developed from the University of Reading’s long withstanding connections with agriculture, with founding objects in the museum’s collections coming from prolific collectors H. J. Massingham and Lavinia Smith.

The site of the museum was first located in a house known as East Thorpe, designed by Alfred Waterhouse for Alfred Palmer, of the Reading biscuit manufacturers Huntley & Palmer’s. East Thorpe was later extended into St Andrews Hall, a hall of residence for women attending University of Reading. This development came from Palmer’s relationship with the university, being an important benefactor.

While staying in Reading, the museum makes a fantastic day out with its immersive displays and informative exhibitions. Inside MERL, people are able to discover insights around identity, environment, technology, culture and health. With the ideal location the museum is a short walk from the centre of Reading with cafes, shops and other leisure facilities just a short bus ride away. 

As well as experiencing all the exciting exhibitions and content the museum houses, there is an open Welcome Space that is home to a refreshment area, a museum shop, as well as a beautiful outdoors area with a sheltered garden, picnic space, growing beds and a Shepherds Hut. The MERL is the perfect day out for all the family, with interactive educational exhibitions, outdoors activities and interesting historical collections there is something for everyone!